As I continue to pull content from my old website, I enter a particularly poignant and painful period to recollect. It was recently Jennifer’s birthday. Her death, the death of her brother and Grandfather in a random, tragic instant had left a mark. Here are the reflections posted some 10-12 months after their death in 2002. It makes up a good part of the story of me and how I look at the world around me.
When I called Susan to tell her that her Grandfather was sick, she asked me immediately how I was doing. “I know I am sad to hear my Pepere Marcotte is not well, but how are you, Randy?” she asked, “He is your father.” I took comfort in her words and in her awareness. While I was calling her with the bad news, she put herself aside to take care of me. That was the beginning of a turn of events that has forever changed our lives.
In the background, I could hear Josh and Jennifer talking up a storm. I had reached Susan on her cell phone while driving to and from one of the many activities that filled their lives as a family. She quietly said, “Hey guys, Mommy is talking to Uncle Randy, can you keep it quiet for a few minutes?” To my surprise, they did. “My kids listen to me better than we ever listened to our parents,” she explained. I could only laugh… leave it to Susan to have two near-perfect children.
A few weeks later Susan and I were gathered in Blackstone to be with family and to be with one another. While years had separated our last visit, time seemed to stand still. Occasional calls kept us updated on the events of each other’s lives but being together created a timeless moment and in an instant, we knew both had become the adults we once dreamed we could be. I was so grateful to her for leaving her kids and life back in Texas. It was her first trip away from them, and now for a weekend, she would help me and the family address the needs of my ailing father and her beloved Pepere.
We decided to grab dinner together. Some time alone in the chaos of family to share stories, to catch up and to be with one another, to take care of one another would be great. Little did I know how strong we would need to be in the coming moments, how much Susan would need me and all the family to surround her with love. On our way to dinner, Susan chirped away about how wonderful her kids were to her, how much they had become her life force, how much they enriched her soul, how blessed she was to be their mommy.
And then my phone rang. I got the horrible news of an accident and looked across the table at Susan and lied. Her father and son were dead. “Something is wrong with Pepere, and they want us to come home.” In the background, I could hear Anita wailing. Everyone in the house seemed to be wailing. The drive took no more than ten minutes, but it felt like a lifetime. And for the second time, I lied to Susan and said, “Ok, I don’t want to freak you out (how could she not), but it is not about my dad Susan, the call was about your dad. He’s been in an accident.” Ok, so I didn’t lie, I just didn’t tell her everything. I figured she’d know soon enough and better she hear from her mother. Is there a good way to hear such horrible news? She knew from my voice something was up, but she didn’t ask. She just looked terrified.
The moment we walked into the house is frozen in time. I can still hear Susan’s scream: primal, universal. The wail of all mothers, “This can’t be happening, This can’t be happening, This can’t be happening.” It is like we are all still there. She looked around the room for someone to fix this, for some answer, for some reason. When her eyes stopped at me I heard her say it again, “Randy these kids are my life.” I had nothing to offer her. I still hear the wail of Susan asking God why, hoping this was a mistake. It sounded as painful as anyone could imagine, and now as I look back on it—exactly one year later—it occurs to me that we witnessed the sound of Donald, Joshua and Jennifer’s birth into their new life: Painful only to those of us left behind.
In an instant, the fabrics of our families lives were changed forever. In a moment Susan’s worst nightmare became a terrible reality.
Five days later I found myself in Texas, one of the last of many to arrive. What followed was a few weeks filled with the tragedy of death and, ironically, the celebration of life. As our Badeau, Marcotte, Perez, New England, Plantersville, College Station families worked to sew together the torn pieces of our lost loved ones, I witnessed in awe a faith stronger than death, Susan was embraced by her faith, and while shattered, I knew she was not broken.
In my mind, I could hear here screaming: “Why is this happening!!” Who wouldn’t? But in her home, and in her heart she took this as an occasion to share how wonderful Josh and Jennifer were. Susan and I spent the next few days, alone with Bell, as the sole occupants of a once busy home. The signs of commotion in a home filled with love, laughter, and a dog lay all around us, constant reminders of the tragedy. Their footprints were everywhere. Every inch of their home had become sacred space. It stands as one of the few occasions on my life where I was able to witness the visible presence of God’s love holding someone together in the most unbelievable circumstances.
One morning I brought Susan some coffee and asked, “Did you sleep OK?” She responded, “Sleeping is not the problem, it’s waking up. When I sleep, I dream of my kids. That’s why when I am awake I am going to use the things that remind me of Josh and Jennifer as moments to celebrate how wonderful they were, and how lucky I am to be their mommy.”
Susan and I speak more often now. And when we don’t speak, we know that we hold one another close to our hearts. When I told Susan about this website, I explained that I wanted people to know how amazing it was to be with her during that time and how beautiful it is that her faith sustains her through this unspeakable tragedy. In times of deep sorrow, I know that Susan takes comfort in knowing she did the best she could for those kids, that they were surrounded by the love of their Papaw, and that they touched many lives in their short time on earth. We all mourn the loss of Donald, Joshua, and Jennifer and still stand in shock. We also believe that it is less important to try and figure out why these few seconds changed so much, but better to use this as an opportunity to use whatever time we have left to be better people, stronger in our faith and loving to one another.
For Susan, that is the best tribute anyone can offer.
Randy N. Marcotte
[ postscript: Susan is now married to a lovely man, Russel, and they have four rambunctious boys. Even their dogs are boys. They have opened their warm and loving home to foster kids needing the love and support she and Russel and the boys can provide. Russel has stepped up and keeps the memories of Josh and Jennifer alive with Susan and provides unconditional love for Susan as she ministers to other families and moms dealing with, and attempting to make some sense of the incomprehensible death of a child. She calls her ministry “Haven of Hope” but the real hope and a haven come as they accept the joys and mysteries life can provide.]